What is a Large Caliber Firearm and Why Do I Need One?

Norma ammunition

Norma ammo claimed this beautiful Red Hartebeest at almost 385 yards with one clean shot. (Photo: Stan Pate/Guns.com)

Have you ever heard the term big bore? Is a .300 Winchester Magnum your idea of a big cartridge? Well, you may be surprised to find out that the ole .300 Win Mag is pretty puny compared to the library of large caliber firearms.

What is a Large Caliber?

Most people nowadays would consider large caliber to be anything over .30 or perhaps .33 caliber — the caliber, of course, being the diameter of the firearm’s bore. This is not to be confused with the cartridge size. For example, a 30-30 is a.30 caliber bore diameter, but so is a .308 Winchester as is the aforementioned .300 Win Mag. While they all share the same bore diameter and bullet sizes, they are certainly not the same thing.

large caliber

The modern firearms market is full of many large-caliber weapons and ammo. (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)

Generations past were accustomed to using large-caliber firearms, more so than we do today. The .45-70 GOV was an extremely popular rifle cartridge for hunting at one point, shooting heavy bullets weighing in at 300- and 400-grains. Alternatively, today, we hunt the same animals with cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor or .308 Winchester — puny in comparison. Technology has brought efficiency to our modern gun collection giving us more energy with better bullet design, better propellants, and lower cost and recoil. That is not to say that large caliber firearms have gone away.

Big Bore Hunting

The modern firearms market is full of many large-caliber weapons. The .45-70 still thrives due to enthusiasts. African hunters in search of a classic safari still opt for time-honored cartridges like the .375 H&H Magnum or anything in the Nitro Express family of cartridges. There are also new rifle and cartridge innovations that rival or exceed the performance of these older cartridges, like the Ruger Hawkeye Alaskan in .375 Ruger.

large caliber

One of the many advantages that large caliber rifles offer is a longer range with better energy. (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)

History and habits aren’t the only reasons you should own a big-bore. Technology advances have also blessed us with some new and impressive big bore options as well. One of the many advantages that large caliber rifles offer is an extended range with plenty of retained energy.

Cartridges like the .375 Cheytac and .416 Barrett carry very large and efficient bullets to distances that are unfathomable to many. Advanced bullet design allows them to exceed even the venerable .50 BMG in wind deflection and bullet drop at those distances. The .338 Winchester Magnum is a fairly common cartridge but is being quickly eclipsed by newer, faster, and very impressive cartridges like the .338 Lapua Magnum and the .338 Norma Mag.

Large Caliber ARs

A modern cousin to the old .45-70 is the .450 Bushmaster — chambered in many popular AR-15 style rifles. It offers the same heavy and slow profile but on an extremely popular modern repeating rifle platform. The same could be said for the .458 SOCOM or .50 Beowulf, any of which could do wonders to slow the invasion of wild hogs. These handy cartridges can also be had in a traditional bolt-action rifle like the Savage 110 Apex Hunter XP.

Big-bore cartridges and rifles even have something to offer non-hunters. They are stellar at extreme distance shooting, punching out targets 1,000 yards-plus.

Final Thoughts

Dangerous Game

The .458 Winchester Magnum is a revered big-bore among Safari hunters and PH’s alike. (Photo: Stan Pate/Guns.com)

Many of the larger caliber rifles we have today are remnants of the days when little else was amenable. Many have stood the test of time with most of them still great choices. I kick myself for not snagging a friend’s vintage Big Bore 94 in .375 Winchester. It would have made a great rifle for sneaking in on deer or elk. I have often fantasized about a CZ 550 in 404 Jeffrey. I have a friend that still elk hunts with a .35 Whelen he inherited from his Grandfather. Plenty of old school cartridges, such as these, are still relevant and bring a taste of history and heritage with their large and blunt bullets.

Regardless of your shooting activities, keep in mind that sometimes bigger is better, and other times it’s a must.


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